@Jack to moderate questions for President Obama in @Twitter @Townhall with @WhiteHouse [#AskObama]

In coordinated tweets with Twitter, the White House announced that it will be holding a town hall on Twitter on July 6th, 2011 at 2 ET. Twitter launched a new @TownHall account for the event and a subdomain, AskObama.Twitter.com to host the live webcast.

According to Macon Phillips, director of digital for the White House, and Sean Garrett, Twitter’s vice president of communications, the digital town hall will be hosted by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who will provide the questions.

Phillips tweeted that “@Twitter has a cool approach to surfacing questions,” clarifying that “choosing the Q’s will be done by @twitter. Garrett tweeted that “there will be a fairly involved process by which they are selected” and more details and background on said process is on the way. UPDATE: Garrett emailed me “the basics”

“There will be multiple ways that questions will get to the President,” he wrote. “Twitter users will begin asking questions via the #AskObama hashtag today. To identify popular and relevant questions, Twitter is engaging with a third-party Twitter measurement company called Mass Relevance to provide a view on the most frequent topics and their geographical distribution. Additionally, Twitter will invite a group of highly active and engaged Twitter users (called “curators”) to help choose questions and comments both prior to and during the event. Twitter will collect questions in the days leading up to the Town Hall and in real-time during the event.”

Garrett also added some information regarding how Twitter will select this team of “question curators”:

“These curators will be a diverse group from around the country that are also active and engaged on Twitter,” he wrote. “These curators will ask those in their particular communities to also highlight what they think are the most important questions for the President. Curators will retweet questions and pose their own.”

The Twitter TownHall follows a Facebook TownHall earlier this year, in which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg posed live questions to President Obama. Nancy Scola wondered how much of a “TownHall” the event actually offered. With this Twitter version, the interesting detail will be in how much transparency goes into question selection, particularly with respect to how exact or tough they are. When the White House turned to Twitter to discuss President Obama’s Middle East speech, they included NPR’s Andy Carvin and Foreign Policy’s Mark Lynch as trusted interlocutors. It’s less clear how Dorsey will moderate, given his considerable different style of tweeting, but on one count there is no doubt: this will be interesting.

UPDATE: In his post on President Obama taking questions on Twitter, Nick Clark Judd raises similar questions over at techPresident on moderation. (And no, he didn’t call the event a “TownHall.”)

UPDATE II: The New York Times published more details on the “Twitter Town Hall,” including the news that there will be a “White House Tweetup,” the first of its kind. In terms of process, here’s what Twitter told the Times. (Spoiler: it’s quite similar to what Garrett told me, above).

Twitter will select the questions, using curation tools and a group of Twitter users to help identify the most popular questions raised both before and during the event. Twitter will be relying on its own search and curation features as well as a company called Mass Relevance to help find questions and topics that are most frequently mentioned.

… Adam Sharp, Twitter’s manager of government and political partnerships, said that the curators chosen by Twitter to help select the questions would be a politically and geographically diverse group. He said the curators would ask the people in their communities to highlight what they think are the most important questions for the president to address.

Curators will also be retweeting questions and posting their own.

“We will have highly-engaged Twitter users from around the country to provide that geographic diversity to help identify good questions, “ he said. “This helps us make sure that we are addressing the concerns that the Twitter universe cares about. “

Less clear whether the President of the United States will actually be doing any of the tweeting himself, as opposed to dictating a reply, which means we may not get to see any real-time presidential typos. According to reports by Paul Boutin, President Obama started tweeting for himself at @BarackObama over the Father’s Day Weekend, signing the tweet “-BO.”

CBS News White House correspondent and keeper of presidential lore Mark Knoller cautioned, however, that “Obama won’t be typing his responses.” Looking back at that Father’s Day tweet, Knoller tweeted that “a tweet was sent in his name by his campaign. He was not at a computer typing a tweet.”

We’ll see if the President decides to get more personally involved or not in the technology. Given that the presidential iPad appears to travel with him these days, it could happen.

[Photo Credit: President Barack Obama sits alone on the patio outside the Oval Office, following a meeting with his senior advisors, April 4, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)]

UPDATE III: Politico White House correspondent Mike Allen led his Tuesday’s Playbook with more details about Wednesday’s Twitter event:

The audience for tomorrow’s hour-long TWITTER TOWN HALL in the East Room (2 p.m. ET) will consist of 140 characters — er, people – in a nod to the maximum length of a tweet. President Obama, however, will face no such limit: He’ll answer questions for the audience, and @TownHall will carry summaries of what he says. Twitter co-founder and Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey will ask the questions. Three screens will be behind Obama and Dorsey: one with the current question; another will have a heat map of the U.S., showing where the town-hall tweets are concentrated; and the third will show the volume of tweets, by topic (jobs, taxes, spending, health care, etc.) Mass Relevance, a company that has worked with the broadcast networks on real-time Twitter data, will supply the analytics. Later, Radian6 will study the demographics of participants.

Representative questions will be chosen partly on how often they’re retweeted. The White House has also reached out to about 10 Twitter leaders in different parts of the country to help surface questions by curating themes and topics that are big among their followers and in their communities. So Dorsey may say: “We’re hearing a lot about the extension of unemployment benefits, especially from the upper Midwest, and here’s a question from Bob in Chicago.” The audience will include 20 people from around the country chosen through the White House Tweetups page, and they’ll also get to meet with Dorsey and with U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra and perhaps other policy officials.

UPDATE IV: Twitter has blogged about the “Twitter Town Hall,” including a link to the 7 “curators” on Twitter who are selecting questions and a new study from Radian6 that found that “financial security is one of the most frequent topics of political conversation on Twitter.”

Tomorrow’s Town Hall is an invitation from the White House for anyone on Twitter to participate in an open exchange about the national and global economic issues facing the United States.

Questions addressed during the Town Hall will be selected both in advance and in real-time during the event. To narrow down the list of popular, relevant questions to ask on behalf of Twitter users, we’re doing the following:

• We’ve partnered with the visualization experts at Mass Relevance to identify the themes and regions driving the conversation.
• Algorithms behind Twitter search will identify the Tweets that are most engaged with via Retweets, Favorites and Replies.
• A team of seasoned Twitter users with experience discussing the economy will help flag questions from their communities through retweets.

Skype your Congressman? House adds VoIP for citizen-to-legislator communications

We the people can now add “Skype me” to the list of phrases your representative may utter in a commercial, town hall or stump speech. This morning, the leadership of the United States House of Representatives approved the use of low-cost video conferencing tools like Skype and ooVoo.

“This is another example of the new Republican majority using digital tools to better engage with and listen to the American people,” said Speaker Boehner in a prepared statement. “We’re committed to keeping our pledge to lead a House that is more open and that gives Americans a real-time voice in their government.”

On this count, the Speaker has firm ground to stand upon. The GOP has been steadily adopted new technologies into the House since the 2010 midterm elections. From livestreaming the transition to moving House.gov to Drupal, the Republican leadership has followed through on many of its commitments to innovation and transparency. Beyond new media adoption, structural changes through opening legislative data have the potential to permanently bake in open government to the People’s House.

Adopting the same low cost Voice over IP tools for videoconferencing that are in use all around the world makes sense on many levels, despite security concerns. Congressmen and their staff will be able to easily communicate with one another at a lower cost now. Daniel Lungren, chairman of House Administration, offered more context for the upgrade to VoIP in a “Dear Colleague” letter this week:

Improving constituent communications and increasing transparency has been a top priority for me as Chairman of House Administration and a member of the House Technology Operations Team. That’s why I am pleased to announce that the House’s Public Wi-Fi network has been enabled to allow Members and staff to conduct Skype and ooVoo video teleconference (VTC) calls.

To maintain the necessary level of IT security within the House network, the House has negotiated modified license agreements with Skype and ooVoo that will require Members, Officers, Committee Chairs, Officials and staff to accept House-specific agreements that comply with House Rules and maximize protection for Members and staff. Detailed requirements on how to comply with these agreements have been posted to HouseNet at http://housenet.house.gov/keywords/VTC. Please note that Skype users will be limited to conducting VTC sessions on the House’s public Wi-Fi to minimize security risks associated with peer-to-peer networking.

During a time when Congress must do more with less, utilizing low-cost, real-time communication tools is an effective way to inform and solicit feedback from your constituents. In addition to Skype and ooVoo, we are searching for additional means to help enhance constituent communications.

“Citizen-to-legislator” communications using VoIP will hold some challenges. Skype and ooVoo both allow conference calls between more than one party but neither will is ideal for one-to-many communications without some tweaking. If a representative’s staff can set up a projector and sound system, however, we may well see new kinds of virtual town halls spring up, whether someone calls back from Washington or from the campaign trail.

Less clear is how constituent queueing might be handled. If hundreds of citizens, activists or lobbyists are all trying to Skype a Congressman, how will priority be assigned? How will identity be handled, in terms of determining constituents from a home district? As I wrote this post, two other questions posed to the Speaker’s office also remained unanswered: will video chats be archived and, if so, how? And will Skype’s file transfer capabilities be allowed?

On the latter count, given the difficult past relationship of the House and P2P filesharing software, learning that file sharing capabilities were disabled would be in line with expectations. UPDATE: Salley Wood from the House Administrative Committee confirms that the current configuration does include file sharing. “Today’s announcement is simply that lawmakers can now take advantage of these platforms using official resources,” she related via email.

Archiving of constituent video chat is another issue, and one that will be added to the growing list of 21st century new media conundrums for politics, like the questions of whether lawmakers’ texts during public meetings become public documents.

What is clear is that one more domino in the adoption of Web 2.0 tools in government has fallen. What happens next is up for debate — except this time, the conversations will span hundreds of new Web connections. This will be, literally, fun to watch.

UPDATE: As Nick Judd blogs over at techPresident, the Hill was the first to report that the House enables use of Skype for members, basing its reporting off of “Dear Colleague” letter above. There’s no shortage of detail in the Hill’s piece, nor good linkage from Judd. So, you know, go read them.

UN: Disconnecting Internet users is a breach of human rights [REPORT]

As the role of the Internet as a platform for collective actions grows, access to the rest of wired humanity becomes more important. Today, United Nations special rapporteur Frank La Rue released a report on freedom of expression and the Internet that described cutting off Internet access as a breach of human rights. The report, which was presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, is an important data point as governments around the globe decide how to legislate, regulate or moderate the disruptive impact of the Internet.

The UN report comes at an important time. As Mathew Ingram wrote at GigaOm, reporting on the recently released UNESCO report on freedom of expression online, governments are still trying to kill, replace or undo the Internet.

“The report provides initial guidance for countries that are grappling with how to address complex Internet policy challenges while upholding their obligations to human rights,” said Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a statement released to the media.

“As Rapporteur La Rue affirms, the Internet’s unique ability to provide ample space for individual free expression can lead to the strengthening of other human rights, including political, economic and social rights,” said Cynthia Wong, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Project on Global Internet Freedom. “In order for these rights to be realized, governments, civil society and industry must all continue to build on the work begun by the Special Rapporteur.”

Both reports and the recent eg8 Summit shows online innovation and freedom of expression still need strong defenders. “The primary reason we need to support the Net is because it is a foundational part of how we have our democracy,” said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, speaking in Paris.

What’s at stake today has been what’s at stake for more than 15 years, said Benkler: The possibility that a coalition of forces who are afraid of the internet will shut it down.”There is still a very powerful counter argument, one that says both for innovation and for freedom, we need an open Net.”

If an open Internet is the basis for democracy flourishing around the world, billions of people will be counting upon our leaders to keep it open and accessible.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and exp…

[Hat Tip: TorrentFreak and Mathew Ingram]

Tim O’Reilly on the power of platforms – from Web 2.0 to Gov 2.0 [VIDEO]

Earlier this spring, Tim O’Reilly gave a talk about how Web 2.0 relates to Gov 2.0 to an ESRI conference. He explores how the idea of the Internet as an operating system and the role of data in future of society.


O’Reilly ended with an encouragement to the conference of mapping professionals and developers there and at large: “We really need to focus on what matters.”

Social Security describes new online public credentialing and authentication process

In an announcement published in today’s Federal Register, the Social Security Administration requested comments and feedback on a proposed information collection method. Specifically, Social Security is exploring what the best way will be to identify citizens who who wish to access more electronic services benefit information online.

NextGov reported the driving need for this system yesterday: Social Security statements will go online …someday. According to Alan Lane, the agency’s associate chief information officer for open government, the agency has are no specific service plans at this time – nor is there a firm deadline for the statements going online. The Federal Register notice has much more detail and is quoted at length below.

Here’s some additional background, before you dive into the announcement below. For an agency like Social Security, taking careful steps into the Information Age isn’t just wise: it’s mandatory. The agency has enormous amounts of confidential data about American citizens. Rushing online holds considerable risks but carefully engaging there will be inevitable if Social Security is to embrace Gov 2.0.

In 2011, the Social Security Administration ranks as the largest government program by dollars paid in the United States federal government. It surpasses even discretionary defense and Medicare/Medicaid spending in the federal budget. As the 21st century dawns, new technology and a mandate for open government from the Obama administration provide an opportunity for the Social Security Administration to “reboot its relationship with the American people,” as its CIO, Frank Baitman, put it last last year.

Whether Social Security can better deliver on its mission through adopting social media, more data, better e-services and mobile technologies is an open question. Authentication and credentialing of citizens online is an important part of that progress. Online identity is a matter of plumbing, so to speak, but getting it right is no less important than real plumbing in a house.

Leaks are potentially catastrophic.

That’s why the United States national strategy for online identity is both complex and worth watching. Citizens and government alike need this to work if e-government services are to match their offline components. Getting this wrong would be disastrous, given the rise of identity theft across the nation.

Given how many more of those citizens will be retiring in the years ahead, providing e-services may not be a “nice-to-have” option. According to Social Security’s estimates, by 2036, there will be almost twice as many older Americans as today, from 41.9 million to 78.1 million. They’ll want to access their information online. Today, we learned a bit more about how the agency is thinking about getting there.

1. Social Security’s Public Credentialing and Authentication
Process–20 CFR 401.45–0960-NEW. Social Security is introducing a
stronger citizen authentication process that will enable a new user to
experience and access more electronic services.


Authentication is the foundation for secure, online transactions.
Identity authentication is the process of determining with confidence
that people are who they claim to be during a remote, automated
session. It comprises three distinct factors: something you know,
something you have, and something you are. Single-factor authentication uses one of
these factors, and multi-factor authentication uses two or more of
these factors.

SSA’s New Authentication Process:

Social Security’s new process features credential issuance, account
management, and single- and multi-factor authentication. With this
process, we are working toward offering consistent authentication
across Social Security’s secured online services, and eventually to
Social Security’s automated telephone services. We will allow our users
to maintain one User ID, consisting of a self-selected Username and
Password, to access multiple Social Security electronic services. This
new process: 1) enables the authentication of users of Social
Security’s sensitive electronic services, and 2) streamlines access to
those services.

Social Security is developing a new authentication strategy that

Utah.gov 2.0: personalized, search-centric design, real-time content

Today, the citizens of Utah have one of the best state government websites online – or at least the newest and easily one of the most beautiful. Whether they notice the change or not, Utah.gov relaunched with a major redesign this morning.

The new site is organized around search, with a big search field front and center. Search now indexes agency information, office hours, interactive maps, and related forms. Utah.gov also uses personalization by location and integration of new media from state officials and agencies. And, in a nod to the Web 2.0 world, Utah.gov will show “what’s trending” as more citizens uses the site. Visitors can already see the most popular searches.

“We are thrilled to announce the re-design of Utah.Gov. Utahns are tech savvy and they expect their government to be the same,” said Utah Governor Gary Herbert in a prepared statement. “Economic development in the State has been a top priority and the new design focuses on utilizing the most innovative technology to better serve Utah citizens and business 24/7.”

For a quick introduction to the new Utah.gov, check out this introductory video:


UTG2011 from Utah Interactive on Vimeo.

“Utah’s new site introduces a new dimension in government web design,” tweeted state CIO David Fletcher a few hours before launch. He gave the new Utah.gov a warm reception over at his personal blog:

It’s been two years since the state of Utah did a major upgrade to its website and a lot has changed during that time. The internet continues to represent an enormous opportunity for state government. In just five short years, the number of visitors to the Utah.gov domain has doubled, reaching 1.4 million unique visitors in March 2011. The new site has been developed, based on extensive research, to address the most important needs of Utah citizens. It takes into account changes that have occurred in Utah society and with technology. We appreciate the fact that Utah.gov has come to represent a trusted source for all kinds of information.

Two years ago, social media services, such as Twitter and Facebook, were still new to many Utahns, so we provided aggregation services where citizens could discover new agency Twitter feeds and begin to interact. The new site, integrates collaborative features into more aspects of the site so you will find information from Twitter and Facebook, and videos from YouTube integrated into many of the pages of Utah.gov. We continue to use the internet to open up government and make it more accessible through services like Open.Utah.gov. There’s also lots of data available in a variety of formats at Data.Utah.gov. Of course, we try to be as open as possible while still maintaining the privacy of our individual citizens.
Still, the most important features on Utah.gov are the numerous services that save time and money for citizens, while bringing tremendous efficiencies to state government as well as the vast libraries of information on topics as varied as healthcare, transportation, caregivers, business creation, and hunting. In 2010, Utah citizens engaged the domain for over 25.1 million interactive transactions, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

Utah.gov was recognized as the best community resource in Utah in 2008 and has won many awards over the years. Looks like they’ll be in the running for more soon.

UPDATE: There are plenty of other folks commenting on the new Utah.gov. Luke Fretwell shared his review of the new Utah.gov here at Govfresh.

At Govloop, Andy Krzmarzick writes that Utah’s stunning web revitalization effort sets “a new bar not just for government web design, but for any location on the web.”

Reno.gov webmaster Kristy Fifelski’s video review for GovGirl.com includes a few concerns regarding YouTube and collecting user-submitted content:


Abhi Nemani called Utah.gov a beautiful new government website over at Code for America, focusing in on the importance of search:

A citizen coming to Utah.gov isn’t given a sprawling tree of links they have to cut their way through. It’s just a search box. It’s just that simple. As the state government put in its release, “search is unmistakable.” In Britain, some innovators within the government have too been experimenting with the interfaces for government websites; they too determined this search-centric model is ideal. Understandably so, I’d say, because it aligns with the motivations a user has in visiting a government website: namely, you have a question. You’re wondering what time that office is open till or where that other one is; which form do you need to fill out and how do you submit it. Government is just as much an information resource as a service provider. Smart web design, like we see on Utah.gov, helps it do both.

Bottom line: When it put search front and center, Utah.gov’s redesign reflected how citizens navigate online.